Speech by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander at the state banquet in Riga hosted by President Raimonds Vējonis of Latvia
Mr President, Mrs Vējone,
Thank you for your warm welcome here in Riga, and for your kind and heartfelt words. Since my wife and I first visited your country 16 years ago, Latvia has a special place in our heart. My wife, who unfortunately can’t be with us, sends you her best wishes.
This afternoon I re-visited the Freedom Monument. Once again it made me reflect on Latvia’s impressive past.
For centuries, you were battered by history, your country tossed back and forth between foreign powers. The people of Latvia faced terrible oppression and violence, and suffered greatly.
And yet, the spirit of the Latvians was never broken.
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of Latvia’s declaration of independence. The freedom gained in 1918 was short-lived. But in those years, this country showed Europe and the world what it could accomplish under its own steam.
Besides a flourishing culture – already renowned at the time – its achievements included tolerance, a fast-growing economy, a stable currency and an excellent education system.
The good years were followed by a long, dark period in which Latvia’s voice seemed to have been muted. But those who listened closely could hear the people’s self-assurance and longing for freedom resonating in the songs of Latvia’s thousands of choirs.
Just as the Dutch are a nation of skaters, the Latvians are a nation of singers. It’s no coincidence that the struggle for freedom was a Singing Revolution. Culminating in August 1989 in a human chain 600 kilometres long, stretching from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius.
Hand in hand, two million people raised their voices for freedom and peace. Your voice was your weapon. It was one of the most impressive demonstrations of all time. And it marked a new beginning.
When my wife and I visited in 2002, Latvia was not yet a member of the European Union and NATO.
You have now been our partner and ally in both for fourteen years – a cause for celebration, as we share the same view on many different issues. Latvia is distinguished by its solidarity, reasonableness and positive energy. You make the Western alliance more complete, and the European Union stronger.
Our unity is of great worth at this time of international tension and uncertainty.
Latvia knows, even better than the Netherlands, what it is to suffer foreign rule and oppression. That must never happen again.
We will stand shoulder to shoulder to continue defending freedom and justice. Never again will you stand alone.
Mr President, however important our bond as EU and NATO partners, we are more than that. Fortunately, the bilateral cooperation between Latvia and the Netherlands continues to take shape.
This visit is too short to focus on all the growing ties between us. But fortunately there was room in the programme to reflect on a few great initiatives in the field of the economy and culture.
The Netherlands’ own culture would be far less rich had it not been for Latvia. Our Golden Age was largely due to our trade with the Baltic countries. So this visit is a good opportunity to say paldies.
Today we heard more about the logistical partnership between our countries, especially plans to make transport cleaner and more efficient. That’s a priority for both our countries. For decades you have worked hard, Mr President, to promote a cleaner environment, protect nature and reduce the impact of climate change.
I’m delighted that Latvian and Dutch businesses are increasingly joining forces in this area. The transition to a cleaner economy won’t be achieved overnight, and it will take a great deal of effort.
As a basketball player, you know that you need to pass as well as dribble in order to score. The Netherlands is glad to be on your team, because we believe in the future of this country.
Latvia’s progress in recent decades has been impressive. Latvia flourishes in freedom.
I warmly congratulate the Latvians on the freedom and independence that you celebrate this year.
May I now ask you all to raise your glasses.
To your good health, Mr President and Mrs Vējone.
To our ally, Latvia.
And to the friendship between our peoples!